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Personal cellular and other wireless dreams

Is it possible to have an intra-company base station for cellular services (GSM or CDMA) for employees, without any involvement of mobile operators, and without any spectrum license? For example, employees could call one another from the cellular handsets of incumbent operators without being billed to them, or make outbound calls to public networks.
Sure, anything is possible. But, it may not necessarily be legal. We were at a conference in Europe, for example, and the event management staff used the popular "family radio" handsets to communicate with one another throughout the hotel. The system worked just fine, although the use of these unlicensed FCC-approved bands outside the U.S. and within foreign countries was technically illegal. The fact is that only licensed carriers can make use of those cellular broadcast airwaves, since they probably acquired those licenses at auction from the government. If you broadcast on those spectrums without a license, then you are essentially a pirate -- operating much like an illegal radio broadcaster.

There are systems available that can coordinate and manage calls over cellular and regular telephone system, as well as channel voice traffic overmuch cheaper 802.11 networks for voice over IP chatter. There are a number of companies that have developed systems that automatically channel voice and even data traffic on-the-fly, provided you have established different levels of sensitivity for that data. For example, a number of police departments in the U.S. utilize systems that use proprietary police bands (for highly sensitive broadcasts), cellular networks (for less sensitive information), and good old Wi-Fi for plain vanilla transmissions as a patrol car nears a Wi-Fi tower or hot spot. There are also a number of cellular phones already available in Europe that include embedded Wi-Fi chips, allowing business users to channel voice traffic over office VoIP systems to save money.

The key to success in multi-network communications is the ability to handle all of the roaming and authentication switch-offs that occur as people jump from one system to another. So, in looking for equipment and vendors, watch for those who lean toward roaming and automatic authentication, as well as an ability to handle a variety of networks and client devices.

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